The Second Chance

Depending on which poll you look at, anywhere from 20 to 45 percent of Americans attend church services regularly, a vast majority of them Christian. That’s a big chunk of the population active in church, yet few movies are made specifically for that audience. What gives?

There are a lot of possible reasons for it — for example, the assumption that many regular churchgoers don’t go to the movies as often as some other demographic groups — but “The Second Chance” is evidence that quality films can be made to serve this audience. (Unfortunately, the film did poorly at the box office, suggesting more strategic marketing and advertising are needed. Or, perhaps, that Christians just don’t GO to movies. But I don’t think that’s the case.)

“The Second Chance” is a Christian film, but it’s not a missionary tool. It has no specific message for non-Christians, though they might find it interesting enough. It’s meant for people who are already Christians, as a call to them to get their priorities straight. It achieves this elegantly, intelligently, without the pandering or over-sentimentalization that have plagued many other Christian films.

It is set in an unnamed large city in which there are two churches begun long ago by the same man, the aging Jeremiah Jenkins (J. Don Ferguson). The Rock is the huge, mostly white church with televised services and wealthy parishioners. The Second Chance, on the other hand, is the older of the two, in a part of town that’s now a little rundown and surrounded by crime. Jeremiah years ago turned his pastoral duties at Second Chance over to Jake Sanders (Jeff Obafemi Carr), a fiery preacher who, like most of his congregation, is black. But the same board of directors still governs both churches.

Jeremiah will retire soon and wants to turn The Rock over to his son, Ethan (Michael W. Smith), a musician/author/superstar minister who stops to sign autographs while gliding into services every Sunday. Ethan and Jake are about the same age, and Jake has nothing but respect for Ethan’s dad — but Ethan himself, it seems to Jake, is losing sight of what church is supposed to be all about. The Gucci shoes, expensive ties and state-of-the-art house that he and his fiancee are buying suggest Ethan has let the money and notoriety go to his head.

Ethan’s dad agrees, and he sends Ethan over to Second Chance for a few weeks to watch how Jake performs his day-to-day duties ministering to his flock. Maybe some time among the downtrodden and troubled will wake him up.

Maybe none of this sounds very interesting so far, but I find the examination of churches’ behind-the-scenes workings fascinating, mostly true to life and highly complex. The board of directors in the film, while in need of a refocusing, is not an evil bunch of corporate types who only love money. Rather, they legitimately want to do God’s work and consider themselves stewards over the money that God’s followers have donated.

Ethan and the board of directors are not the only ones in need of change, though. Jake is hotheaded and inconsistent, berating one lapsed Christian while enabling another. But you get the sense, through Steve Taylor’s direction and Carr’s performance, that this is more or less what an inner-city pastor’s life is like, warts and all.

The film falls prey to at least one dreadful movie cliché, the one where the simpleton shows everyone the right path. (Simpleton characters usually exist in movies solely for that purpose.) But in general, the performances are strong and the production values are high, making it a film Christians can be proud of as a source of both inspiration and quality drama.

B (1 hr., 42 min.; PG-13, a little mild profanity, some mature themes; should have been PG.)